This project explored how London government and trade unions can better support the capital’s self-employed workers and entrepreneurs – helping those for whom self-employment works and develops stable, rewarding and fulfilling careers.
Self-employment has increased sharply in London in recent years, rising by 37 per cent since 2008, compared to 25 per cent across England. Before the recession, it accounted for four in every 10 new jobs created in London.
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of London’s self-employed workforce. Many saw their earnings and work pipeline collapse overnight, and face continued uncertainty as the recession bites.
Self-employment has a decidedly mixed reputation, even as it becomes more and more prevalent in London. It can be seen as an insecure, poorly-paid and under-valued option. Self-reported mental illness is increasing, and more than 40 per cent of self-employed Londoners declare income of less than £15,000, compared to 27 per cent of employees. In addition, fewer self-employed Londoners engage in professional training than their employed counterparts – suggesting that self-employment could erode skills and productivity in the longer term.
But many people choose self-employment, for the flexibility and variety of work it gives them, for the satisfaction of building their own business, or for the tax advantages that it can offer (though some of these may not last).
We looked at how self-employment has been changing in London; who is self-employed, what their aspirations are and what the barriers to realising these are.
Research scope and launch
While many issues relating to self-employment are matters of national fiscal and welfare policy (particularly in relation to precarious quasi-employment in the ‘gig economy’), we explored what can be done at a metropolitan and local level.
The project reviewed evidence on the changing nature of self-employment in London, and identified the barriers and challenges that it presents to workers – focusing primarily on freelancers, entrepreneurs and sole traders, rather than on gig-economy workers.
We also focused on the challenges faced by low-income self-employed Londoners, and groups who are at disadvantage in London’s economy, particularly women, people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, and people with a disability.
- How many of London’s self-employed people are on low incomes, and how have these been affected by the recession? What are they earning and saving, what do we know about their skills?
- Under what status have self-employed workers been operating? What advantages and issues are associated with self-employment status?
- What services and support do self-employed workers need to enable success, and where are they currently finding this?
- How can the Mayor’s Good Work Standard’s principles of fair pay and conditions, workplace wellbeing, skills and progression, and diversity and recruitment be meaningfully applied to self-employed roles?